What do we want most in life?
The Bible offers a simple truism here: our love shapes us. Christians, after all, love God because he first loved us [1 John 4:19]. So, in our first post we started with God’s call for us to receive him as our ultimate love. Yet today most people love the creation in his place [Ro. 1:25]. C.S. Lewis, in Perelandra, got this. In this study of the fall, written as a science fiction novel, he suggested that we find a new life-focus, after sin, in the one looking back at us in a mirror.
This truism treats humans as responders in a war-of-desires: to God, or to God’s gifts. And if self-love wins this war, a challenge arises to sort through the desires stirred by competing attractions. Marketers get this. Internet cookies and algorithms track our clicks so suppliers can then offer us attractive goods and services.
And with this we’re trapped by desires: in our thinking, time, money, friendships, and more. Yet, as in wearing glasses, this “love” is too close for us to see. But we have clues. If we say, for instance, “I want this” or “I like that,” we’re voicing what we love. Even if this sort of “love” isn’t what we have in mind in using the word. All our choices display a broad, steady direction. As in walking, each step takes us toward a desired destination—to satisfaction.
Jeremiah adds another insight to this. All of us have a preferred satisfaction from among a set of possible identities or “boasts”: in wisdom, power, or wealth [in 9:23-24]. Jesus and Paul warned against the third of these—a love for money. And in 2 Timothy 3:2 we’re warned against being “lovers of self”—as the underlying ambition for each boast. They all promise personal security and status.
Yet, crucially, Jeremiah offered a fourth, godly option as a counterpoint: “but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” [Jer. 9:24]. And, as traced in our first post, the call to “know” God is key. Knowing and loving God is a captivating vision that frees us to love him and others.
A broader discussion emerges here. God defeats sin through a new ambition. God’s opponent, the Devil, uses deceitful lusts to capture souls. God’s Spirit overcomes this by pouring out God’s love in our hearts [Ro. 5:5]. And this sets up the integration of Deuteronomy 6:5. “You shall love the LORD your God”—the vision of faith—”with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” The repetition of “all” is where faith brings coherence through the redirected desires of a new heart.
New-born hearts recenter us as God’s love integrates every feature of life into a coherent whole. Choices now move in ways that allow us to get past lesser ambitions. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus spoke of two “masters” [in Matt. 6:24]. One is self-love, full of concerns for this life. Loving God and living in light of eternity is the other. Life, then, isn’t just an eclectic set of random choices. Instead, every choice represents something of our love.
Let’s chase this claim. The Bible uses the language of “love” to track the two options: of fallen desires versus godly desires. Where, then, do feelings come into play? As an affiliated quality. Love consists in who-we-love, not in how-strongly-we-feel. Christ’s crucifixion-based love for his disciples is a true picture of love. And of the Father’s love for us in sending the Son. Are “feelings” or emotions found in this love? Yes. Emotions are present in God’s love for us and in our responses of love. But not as the substance. Love, instead, flows out from God’s triune, selfless giving. With feelings present as a felt aspect of that devotion.
Jesus’ call to love was “the greatest commandment” [Mark 12:30]. Yet even though most Christians know this to be true, it isn’t always central to our daily life and experience. Jesus even pressed this. Along with, “all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” he made a broader connection in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love is the necessary display of faith.
Two more questions.
First, do all Christians have a sound view of God in thinking of his love? Many may wonder if an almighty God really has time for, or interest in, our ordinary day-to-day activities. Do matters of daily eating, sleeping, working, and relaxing really matter to him? And does the invitation to love God in “all things” include our texting friends, playing games, or watching movies? The Bible answer is that God is fully engaged with us, all the time [Psalm 139]. If we don’t get this, our God is too much like us. The Bible, instead, presents him as knowing every hair on our head—not as a weird voyeur but as an intimate, infinite creator and lover.
Second, how does the heart function here? The Spirit is the key. Once one is “born of the Spirit” [John 3:6] God comes to abide in us by his Spirit, not as an overwhelming presence but as a gentle Heart-to-heart companion. Paul assumed this presence as he confronted immoral Corinthian believers: “For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” [1 Cor. 6:16-17]. So that spiritual life is a natural inward conversation with him, as are the day-to-day conversations of a loving husband and wife who are also made to be “one.”
To sum up, then, the “all” in our call to love God comes to the fore as a continuing point of conversation with Jesus as his Spirit lives in our hearts. In our love for God, we’re invited to bring him along into every choice and all our activities. And, as our love grows, our priorities naturally grow to be more aligned with his aims and desires. We begin to “imitate” Christ.
Next time we will take up the follow-up question of nurture. How is our integration into this love accomplished in daily practice? Our answer comes in learning more of how God shares his heart with us.